Israeli Election: Netanyahu Loses, Right Wins

While Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party had a much poorer showing than expected, with Tzipi Livini’s Kadima Party apparently winning more seats, all indications are that Israel’s next government will be more nationalistic and strident than the current one.


The Jerusalem Post titles Gil Hoffman’s coverage “Kadima wins, but rightist bloc biggest.”  But that’s not really right, if we define victory in the only meaningful way:  the ability to form a governing coalition. For Livini to do that would take some incredible dealmaking.

With 99.7 percent of the votes counted, Kadima was narrowly leading Likud with a predicted 28 mandates, while the latter had garnered a predicted 27 seats. Israel Beiteinu was expected to earn 15 mandates, Labor 13, Shas 11, United Arab List four, United Torah Judaism five, National Union four, Hadash four, Meretz three, Bayit Hayehudi three, and Balad three.


Livni had argued earlier in the day that whoever headed the biggest party should be deemed to have “won the public’s trust” and should thus be charged with forming the next coalition. But Likud leaders were already working on Tuesday to construct a “blocking” majority that would deny her any such prospect.

Israel Beiteinu, whose support could be critical to the nature of the next coalition, was to meet on Wednesday to discuss the options produced by the election outcome. But party leader Avigdor Lieberman, in a victory speech after midnight, indicated it was his intention to go with the Likud. “We’ve turned into a significant party, the third largest in Israel,” Lieberman told cheering supporters. “It’s true that Tzipi Livni won a surprise victory. But what is more important is that the right-wing camp won a clear majority… We want a right-wing government. That’s our wish and we don’t hide it.”

It’s not inconceivable that Kadima could outbid Likud for Lieberman’s support, offering him a more powerful stake. But doing so would either ensure that the proverbial tail wagged the dog or keep the government in constant danger of falling.

WSJ gets the headline of its report, by Charles Levinson, right: “Israel Deadlocked as Rivals Both Claim Election Victory.”  Ditto the analysis:

Israel’s complex electoral system doesn’t guarantee Ms. Livni will lead the country — even if she secured the most votes. She first she needs to cobble together a coalition of 61 seats in the country’s 120-seat parliament — likely a daunting task given the right wing’s otherwise strong showing in Tuesday’s vote.

Ms. Livni, a 50-year-old former Mossad spy, was the lone major-party candidate to make continued peace talks with the Palestinians on the basis of a two-state solution a central tenet of her campaign. Her rival, Mr. Netanyahu, has rejected many of the concessions seen as crucial to making peace.

Mr. Lieberman’s strong third place likely makes him pivotal to building any coalition. Mr. Lieberman ran a controversial campaign that accused Israel’s Arab citizens of being disloyal to the country and called for all Israelis to take a loyalty oath in exchange for citizenship rights. In a potentially ominous sign for Ms. Livni, Messrs. Lieberman and Netanyahu were scheduled to meet Wednesday.

Ironically, given that Lieberman holds the whip hand here, the most likely result is a government that is much more right-leaning than if Netanyahu had won outright.  That’s perfectly understandable from the standpoint of an Israeli public frustrated after years of failed attempts to make peace with the Palestinian Authority.   Unfortunately, it also virtually precludes that outcome, strengthening the hand of the Arab extremists.

Levinson’s also quite right when he observes, “The election could present challenges for the Obama administration, which has pledged to jump start the peace process.”

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. 

Related Experts: James Joyner